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Chapter 11: Social Class and Consumer Behavior


A social class system can be defined as:

A hierarchical division of a society into relatively distinct and homogeneous groups with respect to attitudes, values and lifestyles. Many behaviors are shared. Therefore, the applicability of social class in the formulation of marketing strategies is product specific and situation specific.


Examination of the characteristics of social class and the various methods of measuring social status.

Emphasis on the impact of social stratification on purchase and consumption and opportunities for MKT strategies.

The concept of social class

Individual classes must meet five criteria for a social class to exist in a society:

they must be bounded: clear breaks between classes Ordered: status, prestige Mutually exclusive: an individual can only belong to one social class. Exhaustive: every member of a social system must fit into some class. Influential: behavioral variations between the classes.

Social Class and Social Status

Status is frequently thought of as the relative rankings of members of each social class wealth Social Comparison Theory states that individuals power compare their prestige

own possessions against those of others to determine their relative social standing.

Status Consumption
The process by which consumers actively increase their social standing through conspicuous consumption or possessions

Social Class Measurement

Subjective Measures: individuals are asked

to estimate their own social-class positions Reputational Measures: informants make judgments concerning the social-class membership of others within the community Objective Measures: individuals answer specific socioeconomic questions and then are categorized according to answers

Social structure in the US

Functional approach (Gilbert and Kahl): focuses on occupational role, income level, living conditions, and identification with a possibly disadvantaged ethnic or racial group.

Reputational approach (Coleman and Rainwater) is designed to reflect popular imagery and observation of how people interact with one another-as equals, superiors or inferiors. Personal and group prestige is at his heart.

Objective Measures

Single-variable indexes

Compositevariable indexes

Occupation Education Income Other Variables

Index of Status Characteristics Socioeconomic Status Score

Single-Item Indexes

Single-Item indexes allow one to estimate the impact of specific status dimensions on the consumption process.

Education: highly valued in our culture. Education may influence individuals tastes, values and info-processing style. Education level is both correlated with both occupation and income. Occupation: What do you do? Associated with education and income. Socioeconomic index (SEI) developed by Duncan is used. Income: used as a measure of both purchasing power and status. Individual or family income? Before or after taxes? Salary or total income? Reluctance to reveal income?

Multi-Item Indexes

Combination of a number of socioeconomic factors to form one overall measure of socialclass standing. They reflect better the complexity of social class than single-variable indexes.

Ex: ISC (Index of Status characteristics) is a weighted measure of: occupation, source of income, house type, quality of neighborhood (dwelling). SES (socioeconomic status score): occupation, family income and educational attainment.

Which scale should be use?

There is no ONE, one-dimensional status or class continuum. The challenge is to select the most appropriate status dimension for the problem at hand.

Ex 1: Studies of taste and intellectually oriented activities such as magazine readership or TV viewing should consider education at the most relevant dimension. EX 2: Occupation might be most relevant for studies focusing on leisure time pursuits.

Social stratification and Marketing Strategy

Several tasks for managers to consider:

Which aspects of the consumption process are affected by social status for their product categories?
Implies research of social class associated with product/brand usage, purchase motivation, outlet selection, media usage

A product/brand may have different meanings to members of different social strata (blue jeans) Different purchase motivations for the same product may exist between social strata (credit cards).

Social class and useful segmentation variable

Having selected a segment based on usage rate, purchase motivation or product/brand meaning, the marketer must position the brand in a manner consistent with the target market. Remember that members of social strata desire to emulate some aspects of the lifestyle of higher social strata at least some of the time (Ex Anheuser-Busch).

Consumer Behavior and Social Class

Clothing, Fashion, and Shopping The Pursuit of Leisure Saving, Spending, and Credit Social Class and Communication

Figure 11.1 Targeting Upscale Customers

Figure 11.2 Targeting Upper-class Consumers

Table 11.9 Social-Class Profiles

THE UPPER-UPPER CLASS--COUNTRY CLUB Small number of well-established families Belong to best country clubs and sponsor major charity events Serve as trustees for local colleges and hospitals Prominent physicians and lawyers May be heads of major financial institutions, owners of major long-established firms Accustomed to wealth, so do not spend money conspicuously

THE LOWER-UPPER CLASS--NEW WEALTH Not quite accepted by the upper crust of society Represent new money Successful business executive Conspicuous users of their new wealth

Table 11.9 continued

THE UPPER-MIDDLE CLASS--ACHIEVING PROFESSIONALS Have neither family status nor unusual wealth Career oriented Young, successful professionals, corporate managers, and business owners Most are college graduates, many with advanced degrees Active in professional, community, and social activities Have a keen interest in obtaining the better things in life Their homes serve as symbols of their achievements Consumption is often conspicuous Very child oriented

Table 11.9 continued

THE LOWER-MIDDLE CLASS--FAITHFUL FOLLOWERS Primary non-managerial white-collar workers and highly paid blue-collar workers Want to achieve respectability and be accepted as good citizens Want their children to be well behaved Tend to be churchgoers and are often involved in churchsponsored activities Prefer a neat and clean appearance and tend to avoid faddish or highly-styled clothing Constitute a major market for do-it-yourself products

Table 11.9 continued

THE UPPER-LOWER CLASS--SECURITY-MINDED MAJORITY The largest social-class segment Solidly blue-collar Strive for security View work as a means to buy enjoyment Want children to behave properly High wage earners in this group may spend impulsively Interested in items that enhance leisure time (e.g., TV sets) Husbands typically have a strong macho self-image Males are sports fans, heavy smokers, beer drinkers

Table 11.9 continued

THE LOWER-LOWER CLASS--ROCK BOTTOM Poorly educated, unskilled laborers Often out of work Children are often poorly treated Tend to live a day-to-day existence

Figure 11.3 Appealing to Upward Mobility

Geodemographic Clusters
A composite segmentation strategy that uses both geographic variables (zip codes, neighborhoods) and demographic variables (e.g., income, occupation) to identify target markets.

Table 11.13 A Profile of PRIZM Cluster: Urban Gold Coast (Cluster 06)
Percent of U.S. households Predominant age range Socioeconomic group Demographic caption Education Occupation Race/Ethnicity LIFESTYLE: Use WebTV online Listen to Oldie Goldies Read New York Magazine Watch Politically Incorrect 0.60% Mixed Affluent Professional urban singles and couples College graduates White collar White, Asian


1. Assemble a collection of print ads which seem to be directed at different social strata. 2. Comment on the incorporation of any status symbols into the ads.